9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS01 Sociology and Disability

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Disability: Equality, Justice and Risk Building II, C3.01

When equality meets market forces: anti-discrimination legislation, fairness, justice and "good" business practice

In the UK, ensuring equality of opportunity and human rights are now high on the social, political and intellectual agenda. In the last 5 years the British Government has introduced changes that it has described as "the most significant review of equality in over quarter of a century". At the same time, the Government are also placing public sector organisations under increasing pressure to use business-speak and apply market models to their strategies. The aim is to reduce wastage by increasing performance measurements.

This concept has spread to the implementation of equality policies. In 2008, the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that they would be encouraging public bodies with a duty to respond to disability, race equality and gender equality policies to employ cost-benefit analyses to persuade compliance from individuals or departments who had been reluctant to engage. Therefore the drive to comply with this legislation would no longer come from a commitment to fairness or an investment in justice. Rather the drive would come from increasing profit margins, productivity and performance.

Drawing on data from two recently completed projects, one examining the impact of recent policy changes in Equality and Human Rights legislation and the other evaluating the impact of the Disability Equality Duty, this paper will examine tensions in these two developments. Interviews with organisations from the private sector revealed that businesses were not convinced with the need for more legislation to tackle equality and human rights in the workplace. Rather their focus was on improving the economic viability of their business; equality action had the potential to damage this. For public sector bodies however, those who were most successful were those who used business analogies and could demonstrate improved departmental performance as a result of listening more closely to the needs of their customers (achieved through a careful and creative implementation of the DED).

This paper asks to what extent business analogies are useful to engage non-traditional supporters of equality legislation? It also asks to what extent hiding notions of fairness and justice, damage the progress towards greater equality promised by anti-discrimination legislation?